Better faculty, better dentists

College of Dentistry receives $2.5 million for faculty development

By Marilee Griffin

(left)Frank Catalanotto (right) Linda Behar-Horenstein

The UF College of Dentistry has received a $2.5 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to execute a multifaceted, interdisciplinary plan to improve faculty development, and ultimately, improve dental health.

“The idea is to help develop new and better skills in our faculty,” said Frank Catalanotto, D.M.D., co-principal investigator for the grant. “If the grant is successful, our students will be better dentists when they go out into practice. Better dentists are going to improve the health of the public.”

The five-year grant, which went into effect in July, in part supports the ongoing revision of the college’s curriculum.

“With the grant, we have a lot of money to pour into helping make our good curriculum better and helping our faculty be better able to deliver that new curriculum,” Catalanotto said.

One way the grant achieves this is by supporting the work of Linda Behar-Horenstein, Ph.D., a distinguished teaching scholar and professor in the UF College of Education. Creating student-centered learning experiences, writing syllabi, engaging critical thinking skills, incorporating technology — these are some of the teaching skills that Behar-Horenstein, co-principal investigator, will address as part of her involvement in the grant. Online courses, training sessions and clinic observations are a few strategies under consideration.

“All faculty have expertise in some discipline in dentistry, but few faculty have had experience in teaching pedagogy,” Behar-Horenstein said. “Who teaches them to teach? This will expand their repertoire of tools.”

For 16 years, Behar-Horenstein has served as an educational consultant for the College of Dentistry as an affiliate professor. Now embedded in the college, she will oversee and evaluate the faculty development programs made possible by the grant.

Some of these programs will teach faculty about motivational interviewing, a patient-centered communication technique that tackles health issues such as smoking. By using reasonable goals and focusing on patients’ personal motivations, health care providers can help them change their behavior.

“Many people don’t necessarily think about their dentist as being someone who would talk to them about their smoking,” said Lisa Merlo, Ph.D., M.P.E., an assistant professor of psychiatry in the UF College of Medicine. “But most people see their dentists at least twice a year, so dentists have an extra opportunity to really impact oral health concerns like tobacco use.”

The proposed faculty education program to teach motivational interviewing focuses on prevention of childhood caries in pediatric dentistry and tobacco cessation for adolescent and adult patients, but the techniques can translate to other pro-oral health behaviors, Merlo said.

Elizabeth Lense, D.D.S., M.S.H.A., is implementing another major aspect of the faculty development projects: cultural competency.

Cultural competency is the ability to effectively communicate with people from different backgrounds. Teaching dental faculty and students how race, socioeconomic status and education affect patient behavior will improve treatment, Lense said.

“Most dentists and dental students come from middle-class backgrounds,” she said. “They don’t have a lot of exposure to diverse populations or to poverty issues, so they may not think about socioeconomic barriers to care — like a lack of transportation or low health literacy. Having a greater awareness of health care disparities and cultural differences will help us treat patients better.”

The professional development content created through the grant will be shared with four affiliated dental hygiene programs in the state.

The funding also provides opportunities for predoctoral students interested in pursuing academic dentistry. Starting next year, six incoming students will participate annually in a summer mentorship program that places them in health care facilities around North Florida.

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